I make my living as a portrait painter. I live in Mid-Wales. I am still arranging this website, so please excuse that it is a little incoherent, incomplete & untidy.
I was raised in Cheshire. As a child, I painted & drew all the time. I enjoyed my primary schooling but during my secondary education I lost engagement with the process, leaving school & dropping out of college. I carried on drawing & painting. Occasionally something sold. I worked variously as a gardener, gravedigger, forklift driver, warehouseman & cellarman. By 1977 I was in London where Punk was opening doors for untrained enthusiasts in all the arts. An old friend whom I had known since schooldays, Malcolm Garett was designing record sleeves & helped me back on the rails when he asked me to do some work for him. He introduced me to & taught me the basics of design for print. I worked with him at assorted iMaGes, producing artwork for record sleeves & posters. Another member of my old school art class, Peter Saville also asked work with him at Dindisc Records. In 1984 I set up my own studio, DKB. Joined by Peter Curzon & later by Martin Jenkins, we did work for ABC, Bryan Ferry, FYC, Cang of Four, The Mission, Alison Moyet, Scritti Politti, and many others. Green Gartside & Martin Fry in particular were clients who inspired our best efforts. In 1985 our sleeves for Scritti Politti won First prizes in both album & singles categories in Music Week's annual awards (we also gained a 3rd prize for an ABC sleeve!). I started to do paintings, illustrations & collages that we then used on sleeves. Storm Thorgerson appeared in my life & we worked on many projects together. He pushed me very hard & working with him, though a great pleasure was at the same time... real hell. He encouraged me in making sculptures which we employed on sleeves for EBH, Pink Floyd, Thunder & others. For the first time, I considered seriously the possibility that I could become an "artist" - painting & sculpting for a living.
The recession of the late 80's coincided with my decreasing interest in the music business, dominated (it seemed to me) by fashions, fads & egos. In 1988 we bought a cottage in Mid-Wales with a view to leaving London. In 1992 I closed the business & we moved to Wales.
I spent 2 years (& all our savings) renovating the cottage, and then I came to paint. It was more difficult than I had expected. I worked in an old caravan in the garden. For 6 months I tried to "be a painter", rejecting idea after idea as being too pretentious, dull or unoriginal. By late 1994 we had no money, I was without any real direction & the caravan, a dismal place, was leaking badly.
A friend kindly offered a room to use as a studio in a village nearby. With a decent space & light, things picked up. In an interview with the printmaker Terry Frost I read; "looking for something to inspire you to work is an escape from taking action. The decision to take action is the only way of seeing". This simplified things for me - forget the thinking - work! I would paint the things around me, the things figurative painters had always painted; still lives, landscapes, & portraits.
I tried a still life & it went well, though I had little knowledge or understanding of technique & materials. I painted two self-portraits. A friend asked me to do portraits of his children. I entered an oil portrait of our friend & neighbour, Jack Richards, in the annual open exhibition at MOMA Cymru & won first prize! Then, I spent 6 months painting & repainting "Jack a Morley Richards Ty Nant", a portrait of Jack & his brother Morley standing in the landscape. Encouraged by friends & family, I entered it for the BP Portrait Awards (NPG, London). Visitors to the exhibition voted it their "favourite painting". I received letters from people who had seen & been moved by my painting. This was a great encouragement & a kind of validation. Maj. Geoffrey Crook, for the Royal Pioneer Corps Association, seeing the painting, offered me a commission to paint a portrait of Maj. Gen. Field, then Governor of the Tower of London.
Since then portrait commissions have built slowly & I have worked steadily, learning always, establishing myself as a portrait painter. In 2000 I was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. In 2002 I built a studio in the grounds of our home.
I have come to be a "portrait painter" unintentionally, but in many ways it suits me perfectly. I enjoy being in people's company. People are the most important thing. A portrait is very much the result of a collaboration between sitter & artist. The portrait artist records his experience of the sitter. Some of the portraits are in the gallery here - click "paintings" on the homepage, then click "commissioned work".We live in a small, rural, Welsh-speaking community in an area of quiet, natural beauty. Our children have been, & continue to be educated here through the medium of Welsh. We have been made to feel very welcome here & in an environment that respects craft, honesty & hard work, I have found the space & encouragement to become myself & fulfil my ambition of painting for a living.
I spent 15 years working as a graphic designer, mostly in the music industry - sleeves, posters, advertising, t-shirts etc. Some of the sleeves are in the galleries on this site - just go to "other work" then click "graphics". I will be adding to these when I have time. Some of my favourite work from this time was in the posters, press ads, T-Shirts etc that followed on from the packaging & developed the ideas.
I have many things to say on art & when I find the time, I will put some of them down.... I work in a traditional manner, I guess, though I draw influences from many artists. It is hard for me to see my work objectively. I have a long way to go, but my intention is to establish my own language of marks & not copy others. I am a perfectionist, with all the baggage that brings. It drives me on but also inhibits me. I have aims & manners of style that conflict, & often find it difiicult to see a way ahead. Having no training in painting has been a hindrance but at the same time, perhaps a release. Someone once told me I was lucky not to have received an art education as it meant I had not been told what was right & wrong, what was good & bad, but could decide those things for myself. It is difficult however to maintain confidence when most of my judgement is self-reliant & I have no bedrock of received knowledge to support it. Still, I don't believe you need an artschool education to understand art. Good art speaks to everyone, educated or not. If an artwork relies on an explanation outside of itself to be understood or appreciated, then it is the lesser work for that.
Techniques & Materials
At first I found it difficult to come by reliable information regarding basic techniques & materials. I found "The Technique of Oil Painting" by Colin Hayes (Batsford, 1965)to be very helpful when I started. Answers to some problems can be very elusive. One of the things I find most difficulty with is the uneven surface gloss of various pigments & media when dry, & the reduction in depth of dark colours when they dry to matt. Depth is retrievable by gloss varnishing but that brings it's own problems. I have asked many people about a way to even up the levels of gloss across the whole painting & have yet to come across a satisfactory answer ...if there is one. Oil is a wonderfully rich & flexible medium, but an extremely difficult & complex one to master.